Top 14 Health Benefits of Broccoli
By Ansley Hill, RD, LD on September 12, 2018
Broccoli is a green vegetable that vaguely resembles a miniature tree. It belongs to the plant species known as Brassica oleracea.
It’s closely related to cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower — all edible plants collectively referred to as cruciferous vegetables.
There are three main varieties of broccoli:
Purple cauliflower — despite its name a type of broccoli
Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
Here are the top 14 health benefits of broccoli.
- Packed With Vitamins, Minerals and Bioactive Compounds
One of broccoli’s biggest advantages is its nutrient content. It’s loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other bioactive compounds.
One cup (91 grams) of raw broccoli packs (1):
Carbs: 6 grams
Protein: 2.6 gram
Fat: 0.3 grams
Fiber: 2.4 grams
Vitamin C: 135% of the RDI
Vitamin A: 11% of the RDI
Vitamin K: 116% of the RDI
Vitamin B9 (Folate): 14% of the RDI
Potassium: 8% of the RDI
Phosphorus: 6% of the RDI
Selenium: 3% of the RDI
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw — both are perfectly healthy but provide different nutrient profiles.
Different cooking methods, such as boiling, microwaving, stir-frying and steaming, alter the vegetable’s nutrient composition, particularly reducing vitamin C, as well as soluble protein and sugar. Steaming appears to have the fewest negative effects (2Trusted Source).
Still, raw or cooked, broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C. Just half a cup (78 grams) of cooked broccoli provides 84% of the reference daily intake (RDI) — more than one-half orange can offer (3, 4).
Broccoli is a rich source of multiple vitamins, minerals and fiber. Different cooking methods may affect the vegetable’s nutrient composition, but broccoli is a healthy addition to your diet whether cooked or raw.
- Contains Potent Antioxidants That Offer Health-Protective Effects
The antioxidant content of broccoli may be one of its main boons for human health (5Trusted Source).
Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit or neutralize cell damage caused by free radicals. This can lead to reduced inflammation and an overall health-protective effect.
Broccoli has high levels of glucoraphanin, a compound that is converted into a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane during digestion (6).
Test-tube and animal studies indicate that sulforaphane may offer multiple health benefits, including reduced blood sugar, cholesterol levels, oxidative stress and chronic disease development. However, more research is needed to understand its role in humans (7Trusted Source).
Broccoli also contains measurable amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage in your eyes (8Trusted Source).
Broccoli contains multiple potent antioxidants that may support healthy cells and tissues throughout your body.
- Bioactive Compounds May Contribute to Reduced Inflammation
Broccoli contains various bioactive compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation in your body’s tissues.
It’s theorized that multiple compounds work synergistically to support this effect, though some seem to work individually as well (5Trusted Source).
Kaempferol, a flavonoid in broccoli, demonstrates strong anti-inflammatory capacity in both animal and test-tube studies (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
A small human study in tobacco smokers also revealed that eating broccoli led to a significant reduction in markers of inflammation (11Trusted Source).
While these results are promising, more research is needed to better understand how broccoli consumption affects inflammation in humans.
Broccoli contains several bioactive compounds that demonstrate an anti-inflammatory effect in animal and test-tube studies. However, more human research is needed.
- May Protect Against Certain Types of Cancer
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, contain various bioactive compounds that may reduce cell damage caused by certain chronic diseases (12Trusted Source).
Multiple small studies have shown that eating cruciferous vegetables may protect against certain types of cancer, namely:
Breast (13Trusted Source)
Prostate (14Trusted Source)
Gastric/stomach (15Trusted Source)
Colorectal (16Trusted Source)
Renal/kidney (17Trusted Source)
Bladder (18Trusted Source)
Though this data is encouraging, it isn’t strong enough to make definitive health claims regarding broccoli’s role in cancer treatment or prevention.
Ultimately, more human research is needed to determine the relationship between cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention.
Multiple studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, may have a cancer-preventative effect, though more research is needed.
- Antioxidants and Fiber May Aid Blood Sugar Control
Eating broccoli may support better blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, it may be related to broccoli’s antioxidant content (19Trusted Source).
One human study showed significantly decreased insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes who consumed broccoli sprouts daily for one month (19Trusted Source).
Interestingly, an animal study revealed decreased blood sugar in addition to reduced pancreatic cell damage in diabetic rats fed broccoli extract (20Trusted Source).
Broccoli is also a good source of fiber. Some research indicates that higher intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower blood sugar and improved diabetic control (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
Eating broccoli may lower blood sugar and improve diabetic control. This is likely related to its antioxidant and fiber content.
- May Support Heart Health in a Variety of Ways
Several studies indicate that broccoli may support heart health in a variety of ways.
Elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels are known to be major risk factors for heart disease. Broccoli may play a role in improving these markers.
One study noticed significantly reduced triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as increased “good” HDL cholesterol levels in people who were treated with a powdered broccoli sprout supplement (23Trusted Source).
Some research also supports the notion that specific antioxidants in broccoli may reduce your overall risk of heart attack (7Trusted Source).
A study in mice fed broccoli sprouts revealed a potentially protective effect against cell death and oxidative stress in heart tissue following a cardiac arrest (24Trusted Source).
Additionally, higher intake of fiber-rich foods like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease (25Trusted Source).
Research indicates that broccoli may help reduce various heart disease risk factors and prevent heart tissue damage.
- Promotes Healthy Digestion and Reduced Constipation
Broccoli is rich in fiber and antioxidants — both of which may support healthy bowel function and digestive health.
Bowel regularity and a strong community of healthy bacteria within your colon are two vital components to digestive health. Eating fiber- and antioxidant-rich foods like broccoli may play a role in maintaining healthy gut function (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
A study in mice on a broccoli diet found reduced levels of inflammation in the colon, as well as favorable changes in gut bacteria (29Trusted Source).
A recent human study indicated that people who ate broccoli were able to defecate more easily than individuals in the control group (30Trusted Source).
Though these results are promising, more human research is needed to better understand how broccoli affects digestive health.
Eating broccoli may support bowel regularity and healthy gut bacteria, though more research is needed.
- May Slow Mental Decline and Support Healthy Brain Function
Some of the nutrients and bioactive compounds in broccoli may slow mental decline and support healthy brain and nervous tissue function.
A study in 960 older adults revealed that one serving per day of dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, may help resist mental decline associated with aging (31Trusted Source).
Additionally, an animal study showed that mice treated with kaempferol — a compound in broccoli — had lowered incidence of brain injury and reduced inflammation of neural tissue following a stroke-like event (32Trusted Source).
Sulforaphane is another potent bioactive compound present in broccoli with the potential to support brain function after an event of reduced oxygenation to the brain.
In some studies, mice treated with sulforaphane showed significant brain tissue recovery and reduced neural inflammation following brain injury or toxic exposure (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
Most current research evaluating the effect of bioactive compounds found in broccoli on brain health are restricted to animal studies. More research is needed to determine how these compounds support neurological function in humans.
Multiple animal studies show that specific bioactive compounds in broccoli may have a protective effect on brain tissue. However, more research is needed to establish this relationship in humans.
- May Help Slow the Aging Process
The process of aging is largely attributed to oxidative stress and reduced metabolic function over the course of your lifespan (36).
Though aging is an unavoidable natural process, diet quality is thought to be a major player in determining genetic expression and development of age-related diseases (37Trusted Source).
Research shows that sulforaphane, a key bioactive compound in broccoli, may have the capacity to slow the biochemical process of aging by increasing the expression of antioxidant genes (37Trusted Source).
Still, more human research is needed to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between dietary intake of broccoli and its effect on the aging process.
Sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli, may be able to slow the aging process. More human research is needed to better understand this function.
- Vitamin C Content Supports a Healthy Immune System
The human immune system is complex and requires a multitude of nutrients to function properly.
Vitamin C is arguably the most essential nutrient for immune function — and broccoli is loaded with it.
Research indicates that vitamin C plays a role in both the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. A daily intake of 100–200 mg of vitamin C seems to be sufficient to prevent certain infections (38Trusted Source).
Typically, vitamin C is associated with oranges or strawberries, but broccoli definitely deserves credit — a half-cup (78-gram) serving of cooked broccoli boasts 84% of the RDI for this vitamin (3).
Broccoli provides an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient known to support healthy immune response.
- May Support Dental and Oral Health
Broccoli contains a wide array of nutrients, some of which are known to support oral health and prevent dental diseases.
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin C and calcium, two nutrients associated with a decreased risk of periodontal disease. Kaempferol, a flavonoid found in broccoli, may also play a role in preventing periodontitis (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Additional research indicates that the sulforaphane found in broccoli may reduce your risk of oral cancers (41Trusted Source).
Some sources claim that eating raw broccoli can help manually remove plaque and whiten your teeth. However, no rigorous scientific data exists to support this.
Ultimately, more human research is needed to better understand broccoli’s role in maintaining a healthy mouth.
Certain nutrients found in broccoli are associated with a decreased risk of certain dental and oral diseases.
- May Promote Healthy Bones and Joints
Many of the nutrients found in broccoli are known to support healthy bones and may prevent bone-related disorders.
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K and calcium, two vital nutrients for maintaining strong, healthy bones (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source, 44Trusted Source).
It also contains phosphorus, zinc and vitamins A and C, which are necessary for healthy bones as well (45).
A test-tube study indicates that the sulforaphane found in broccoli may aid in preventing osteoarthritis. However, more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions on its role in humans (46Trusted Source).
Many of the nutrients in broccoli — including calcium, vitamin K and phosphorus — are necessary for maintaining healthy bones. Additionally, early research indicates that certain antioxidants in broccoli may prevent some joint disorders.
- Nutrient Content May Support a Healthy Pregnancy
Your body requires a multitude of vitamins, minerals and protein during pregnancy to support both baby and mother.
Broccoli is a good source of B vitamins — namely B9, also known as folate.
Folate is an essential nutrient for the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. Regular consumption of folate-rich foods like broccoli can help ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes.
Additionally, some animal studies indicate that broccoli eaten by the mother may support healthier cognitive development of the newborn (47Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source).
More research is needed to better understand how broccoli and its bioactive compounds may support healthier pregnancy outcomes.
Broccoli contains nutrients vital for certain aspects of fetal development. Folate is particularly important in this regard. However, more research is necessary to study this topic further.
- May Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage
Skin cancer is on the rise due in part to a damaged ozone layer and increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays (49Trusted Source).
Research indicates that bioactive compounds in broccoli may protect against UV radiation damage which leads to skin cancer.
In some animal studies, treatment with broccoli extract resulted in significantly reduced tumor growth and prevalence in mice with UV radiation-induced skin cancer (49Trusted Source, 50Trusted Source, 51Trusted Source).
Small human studies have achieved similar results, revealing a significant protective effect of broccoli extract against skin damage and cancer development after sun exposure (49Trusted Source).
Ultimately, more research is needed to understand how broccoli and its bioactive components may protect skin from sun damage.
Small animal and human studies showed significantly reduced tumor growth when broccoli extract was used as a protective therapy against UV radiation.
The Bottom Line
Broccoli is a nutrient-rich vegetable that may enhance your health in a variety of ways, such as by reducing inflammation, improving blood sugar control, boosting immunity and promoting heart health.
However, keep in mind that good health doesn’t come from any single food. Broccoli is merely one of numerous healthy foods that can contribute to optimal health.
Including this nutritious vegetable in your healthy, balanced diet may help you achieve your health goals more easily
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